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Incontinence Risk Factors

Many things can cause incontinence or make it more likely that you may develop the condition. Some risk factors are under your control, so you can take steps to lower your odds of incontinence.

  • Gender: Women are more likely to have incontinence than men, since pregnancy, childbirth and menopause increase your risk. But older men may be at risk, too.
    • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy, plus the weight of the fetus on your bladder, can cause temporary incontinence
    • Childbirth: Giving birth may weaken your pelvic floor muscles and damage the nerves that help control your bladder. Incontinence is common in the first six months after pregnancy and often goes away as your pelvic floor heals. However, the more children you have, the higher your risk for ongoing incontinence.
    • Menopause: Hormonal changes during menopause may increase your risk since estrogen helps keep your vaginal  lining healthy. Taking hormone replacement therapy, however, might not help treat incontinence  .
    • Prostate problems: An enlarged prostate can lead to incontinence in men, though it’s more likely to make it difficult for a man to urinate. Treatment for prostate cancer may also cause incontinence.
  • Age: Your incontinence risk goes up as you get older, since your muscle tone and bladder capacity may decrease.
  • Obesity: Excess body weight may put extra pressure on your bladder and pelvic organs.
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction: Your pelvic floor muscles support your bladder and help control urine flow, so you could experience incontinence if they are weak or damaged. This can happen due to childbirth, surgery (such as hysterectomy) or aging.
  • Overactive bladder muscles
  • Chronic medical conditions: Some chronic health conditions (including diabetes, constipation and certain respiratory (breathing) conditions) may affect bladder control. Conditions like arthritis that cause mobility issues may also make it hard for you to get to the bathroom quickly. People with Alzheimer’s disease may not feel as though they need to urinate, forget to urinate or be unable to find the bathroom/toilet.
  • Neurological conditions: Conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, brain tumor or spinal cord injury can disrupt the nerve signals between the bladder and the brain.
  • Medications: Medications such as diuretics, sedatives, muscle relaxants, some antidepressants (SSRIs) and certain blood pressure medications may affect bladder function.
  • Structural abnormalities: Problems such as birth abnormalities, urinary tract blockages or pelvic organ prolapse can lead to incontinence.
  • Family history: You may be more likely to develop incontinence, particularly urge incontinence, if you have family members with the condition. Experts don’t have a good understanding of the specific genes that are involved.
  • A history of pelvic surgery or radiation therapy: Treatments in the pelvic region can damage nerves and weaken muscles.
  • High-impact physical activities: Heavy lifting and high-impact activities can put strain on the pelvic floor.
  • Lifestyle factors: Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, smoking and not drinking enough fluids can irritate your bladder.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs): UTIs can irritate the bladder and make you urinate more urgently and frequently. Vaginal infections may also cause incontinence.
  • Constipation: Hard stool may make bladder nerves overactive.
  • Emotional or psychological factors: Stress, anxiety, depression and cognitive impairment may affect your bladder control.

While these factors may increase your chances of incontinence, they don’t guarantee it will happen. Everyone’s experience is different, and there are steps you can take to help you stay in control.

Learn about incontinence testing, diagnosis and treatment.